Counting the cost of carbon


The researchers revolutionising the way we look at energy, the economy and carbon emissions.


Look around you. Everything you see from laptops, mobile phones and TVs to cars, buildings and aeroplanes take energy to produce, energy to maintain and energy to dispose of. This energy enables modern life and a healthy economy, but also creates carbon emissions which are harmful to the environment. If the UK is to meet its ambitious CO2 reduction targets it needs to have a detailed understanding of where, how and why energy is used throughout the economy and where it can be reduced.

The Centre for Industrial Materials, Energy and Products (CIEMAP) has developed tools that give new insights into the complex relationship between the UK industry, the energy it uses and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emitted. These insights have been taken on board by high level industry and government stakeholders and are being used to shape policies and practices that aim to reduce energy demand more effectively.


Carbon costs

Energy is consumed in every stage of production that ultimately drives the UK economy, such as building houses, making cars and electrical appliances and transport and communications infrastructure. Raw materials must be sourced, processed, transported and constructed into end products. The longevity and durability of finished products and the energy consumed in their everyday use also feeds into their overall carbon footprint. And when materials and products are no longer needed or wanted, their disposal and the process of replacing or upgrading them all uses energy. CIEMAP is using data from a range of sources to map, understand and project this chain. In effect any product or process can have a carbon cost attached to it.

The CIEMAP team (led by the University of Leeds, with Cardiff, Bath and Nottingham Trent Universities) have been successful in changing the way the government measures UK emissions and has brought the issue of resource productivity to the attention of ministers and senior civil servants.


Policy connections

CIEMAP Director Professor John Barrett says “we have worked with UK Government Departments and Industrial Partners to support UK Energy Policy and Industrial Strategy. The impact ranges from developing models which the government uses to assess our progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to collaborating with government departments to shape policies and programmes which will ultimately reduce energy demand and emissions.”

Organisations the team have worked with include the Committee on Climate Change, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The researchers have allowed these policymakers to adopt a model of measures the complete energy demand on the UK economy, both inside and outside the UK.


Providing key figures

Professor Barrett says: “CIE-MAP provides the UK Government with one of their headline indicators on energy and consumption; the “Consumption-based GHG Emissions” account. Each year, the UK Government now publishes the consumption-based emissions of the UK. This is provided by the University of Leeds and is a direct outcome of one of the models that has been developed within the CIEMAP centre, namely the UK Multi-Region Input-Output Model. This is an important development as it recognises that UK consumption and industry drives energy demand and emissions in other world regions, extending the scope of the UK to reduce energy demand.”

Policymakers are also considering  the idea of   resource productivity, identifying the possibility to drive economic growth and reduce the energy demand from our use of materials.  The centre have contributed evidence to Select Committees, worked on the BEIS Industrial Decarbonisation Roadmaps and worked with the DECC energy modelling team on Energy and Emissions Projections. These projections provide crucial information about how the UK is progressing towards its CO2 emissions reductions targets.


Working with industry

CIEMAP also work with industry bodies (such as the Green Building Council and Green Construction Board) to get across the messages from research and government as to where changes can be made in the economy to tackle GHG emissions. They regularly present at industry trade shows and seminars and meet with companies to disseminate the results of their research.

The CIEMAP team are a using cutting-edge interdisciplinary research techniques to inform all relevant stakeholders of the main causes of GHG emissions in order to be able to tackle it more effectively for the benefit of all.

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